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Refine Your Estimation Practices With Top-Down Allocations

Don’t let bad estimates ruin good work.

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  • Derek Henderson, Project Manager, Vuteq
  • 8 anonymous contributors
  • As a portfolio manager, you’re expected to size projects for approval and intake before they have sufficient definition.
  • The consequences of initial sizing are felt throughout the project lifecycle.

Our Advice

Critical Insight

  • Your organization lacks strong organizational memory upon which assumptions and estimates can be made.
  • Definition is at a minimum not validated, untested, and is likely incomplete. It has the potential to be dangerously misleading.

Impact and Result

  • Build project history and make more educated estimates – Projects usually start with a “ROM” or t-shirt size estimate, but if your estimates are consistently off, then it’s time to shift the scale.
  • Plan ahead – Projects face risks; similar projects face similar risks. Provide sponsors with estimates that account for as many risks as possible, so that if something goes wrong you have a plan to make it right.
  • Store and strengthen organizational memory – Each project is rich with lessons that can inform your next project to make it more effective and efficient, and ultimately help to avoid committing the same failures over and over again. Develop a process to catalogue project history and all of the failures and successes associated with those projects.

Research & Tools

Start here – read the Executive Brief

Read our concise Executive Brief to find out why you should improve your estimation practices, review Info-Tech’s methodology, and understand the ways we can support you in completing this project.

1. Build organizational memory to inform early estimates

Analyze your project history to identify and fill gaps in your estimation practices.

2. Develop and refine a reliable estimate with top-down allocations

Allocate time across project phases to validate and refine estimates and estimate assumptions.

3. Implement a new estimation process

Implement a lessons learned process to provide transparency to your sponsors and confidence to your teams.

Guided Implementations

This guided implementation is an eleven call advisory process.

Guided Implementation #1 - Build organizational memory to inform early estimates

Call #1 - Scoping call
Call #2 - Build your project history
Call #3 - T-shirt sizing health check
Call #4 - Create an attribute list
Call #5 - Assess resourcing requirements

Guided Implementation #2 - Use top-down allocations to create a reliable estimate

Call #1 - Allocate your effort hours by skill
Call #2 - Develop a contingency reserve
Call #3 - Determine control of the reserve and a release schedule

Guided Implementation #3 - Implement your estimation process

Call #1 - Prepare your estimation quotation
Call #2 - Integrate lessons learned into the PMLC
Call #3 - Develop your organization with a lessons learned database

Onsite Workshop

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Onsite workshops offer an easy way to accelerate your project. If you are unable to do the project yourself, and a Guided Implementation isn't enough, we offer low-cost onsite delivery of our project workshops. We take you through every phase of your project and ensure that you have a roadmap in place to complete your project successfully.

Module 1: Develop the Foundations of Organizational Memory

The Purpose

  • Track key performance indicators on past projects to inform goals for future projects.

Key Benefits Achieved

  • Developed Project History List.
  • Refined starting estimates that can be adjusted accurately from project to project.




Build project history.

  • Project History List

Analyze estimation capabilities.

  • T-Shirt Sizing Health Check

Identify estimation goals.

  • Estimate Tracking Plan

Module 2: Define a Requirements Gathering Process

The Purpose

  • Outline the common attributes required to complete projects.
  • Identify the commonly forgotten attributes to ensure comprehensive scoping early on.

Key Benefits Achieved

  • Refined initial estimate based on high-level insights into work required and resources available.




Develop a list of in-scope project attributes.

  • Identified list or store of past project attributes and costs

Identify leadership priorities for deliverables and attributes.

  • Attribute List and Estimated Cost
  • Required Skills List

Track team and skill responsibilities for attributes.

Module 3: Build an Estimation Process

The Purpose

  • Set clear processes for tracking the health of your estimate to ensure it is always as accurate as possible.
  • Define check-in points to evaluate risks and challenges to the project and identify trigger conditions.

Key Benefits Achieved

  • An estimation process rooted in organizational memory and lessons learned.
  • Project estimates that are consistently reevaluated to predict and correct challenges before they can drastically affect your projects.




Determine Milestone Check-In Points.

  • Project Lessons Learned Template

Develop Lessons Learned Meeting Agendas.


Identify common risks and past lessons learned.

  • Historic Risks and Lessons Learned Master Template

Develop contingency tracking capabilities.

  • Contingency Reserve and Risk Registers

Module 4: Improve Business Alignment With Your Estimation Plan

The Purpose

  • Bridge the gap between death march projects and bloated and uncertain estimates by communicating expectations and assumptions clearly to your sponsors.

Key Benefits Achieved

  • Clear estimation criteria and assumptions aligned with business priorities.
  • Post-mortem discussion items crucial to improving project history knowledge for next time.




Identify leadership risk priorities.

  • Estimation Quotation

Develop IT business alignment.

  • Risk Priority Rankings

Develop hand-off procedures and milestone approval methods.

  • Hand-Off Procedures

Create a list of post-mortem priorities.

  • Post-mortem agenda planning
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